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Want to get more innovative thinking within your team? Here is a way to stimulate it:

  1. First, go to your company slack channel and create the “room_of_ideas”.

  2. Pose a challenge to your team to join the channel and contribute an idea a day.

  3. Do this for a month and then have a retrospective with participants.

What will your team get out of this?

  1. Your team will be more creative and happier. If you give them an outlet and they feel that it is ok to use it.

  2. Your team gets ideas. Some of these might be good. Some might spawn bigger discussions and could actually turn into something.

  3. Your team gets a good sense of problems. Ideas are solutions to a problem. Take any idea that was posed in your slack channel and ask yourself, “What problem does this solve?”. Now, take those problems and start grouping them together. You can sometimes find recurring themes. These problems are really what you want. You can do a focused brainstorm on the problem alone if enough people find this common problem important.

Here is what we learned.

First off, it is fun and not intimidating after you get into this.

  • I found myself on the lookout for good ideas. Sometimes I would queue one up for the next day.

  • I found that they came in bursts, usually when I was doing something that I didn’t expect.

  • My ideas started off as being big and lofty, but later in the month they were very authentic and practical.

  • The best ideas came in the moment when the problem was right in front of you.

  • There were reoccurring themes.

  • After one month we still continued to submit ideas.

Why does this work?

The value isn’t in the ideas that form, it is in the culture that you are creating.

Ideas are always forming and vanishing - you have to write them down to harvest them. An exercise like this gets people to become idea fishermen. Ideas are like dreams, you have one, it is vivid and immersive, then suddenly you can’t remember it. You need a place to put the idea as soon as it forms. I personally have tried notebooks and special apps, but then I just build up a bunch of stuff that I need to sort through and organize.

You need a community to help you remember to do this. With slack, it is very easy to start a thread about an idea that is interesting or to give folks a “thumbs up” for an idea. Then, each idea can become a catalyst where more information can form.

Probably the most important part is that it gets adults to play again. For whatever reason, we become very conservative about our ideas as we get older. I think maybe we are worried that if we give up the “one” idea, then we will suddenly run out of them and someone will take it.

By making ideas a fun social toy they become something to share and goof around with. This helps people relax and have fun solving problems as a team.

These were the common questions

Does the idea have to be well written?

No. It doesn’t even have to be well thought out. It is basically a sentence or two that tells of a solution to a problem.

How do you make it feel safe?

This is the most important part. You have to make sure that people’s ideas don’t make them feel judged. You have to make sure that any idea works; it isn’t about good ideas it is about a bunch of ideas. In fact, you might want to purposely put in some half-baked ones to show everyone that it is ok to not always be brilliant.

Why one month?

Limiting the time helps people feel like this is approachable. Think about your workout. If you had to do 1000 pushups you won’t even start. But if you do 10 every day, you can get there after 100 days. That actually sounds approachable.

What do you expect from this?

Three things will happen:

  • Expect to help form a better culture for ideation.

  • Expect to gather ideas.

  • Expect to find underlying problems.

Why give the company my best ideas?

You don’t. In fact, if you feel like one of your ideas is very personal to you, don’t share it. There should be plenty of others that you aren’t attached to.

What happens to these ideas?

In all reality, ideas can drain resources. The tweet size ideas I’m talking about take a few seconds to craft and might never go anywhere. It is a real investment to turn these ideas into product and that is the real work. Most likely, these won’t be used for anything other than to spark more conversations. It is the culture of creativity that we are working on building.


Conclusion

Give this a try and then please do a retrospective at the end. It would be really great if you could send me the results of these retrospective so that I can help to design this exercise to be more productive for other people.